In which Pride and Purists probably won't cut it


It must be a tiresome life, being a purist. Spending all that time in pursed-lipped disapproval each time the world reinvents the wheel, or makes a new flavor of crisp. All the tutting and harrumphing and ruining perfectly good dinners by complaining that your tapas isn’t authentic enough*.

I’ve been puristic about few things in my time, and managed to stay puristic about even fewer. Fancy dress is one; I hate it when people turn up in a wipe-clean black and white sack off the internet and think they’re the spirit of Carnaby Street.

Pride and Prejudice adaptations are another. When something as completely, flawlessly brilliant as the 1995 BBC version is still delighting fans the world over, why would you even bother with the effort and expense of making further, obviously inferior versions – like Keira Knightley’s 2005 pout-athon, or this new PD James crime sequel to mark the book’s bicentennial?

Why not just have Colin Firth’s wet shirt listed as a Grade II heritage site, for coaches of schoolchildren to visit on field trips? Then the TV and film people could tick Pride and Prejudice off the list, mark it done forever, and move onto other things. Like The Very Hungry Caterpillar: The Musical.

But mostly, it’s quite pleasant to enjoy something that the purists hate. It’s refreshing. It’s like everyone else sitting in a bad smell when you’ve got a blissfully blocked up nose. Which as it happens, is exactly how I felt about Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

After all the months of mounting hype and previews and product tie-ins and everyone going, “gee, you’d think that if they’ve got enough good bits for a three-minute trailer, they’d have, like, finished the film by now”, I was fully prepared to be crashingly disappointed. But the beauty of going into something prepared to be disappointed is (and I guess this was Eeyore’s philosophy) most likely, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Yes there’s the raucous R’n’B soundtrack, but isn’t that exactly how jazz would have sounded to traditional ears in the 20s? Yes, it’s gaudy and overblown and cartoonish and Leo DiCaprio’s accent is like nothing that’s ever left another mouth, ever, but as a cinematic experience it left me feeling exactly the same way the book did – invigorated, slightly confused, and craving a cocktail.

So if I prepare to be thoroughly scornful of Death Comes to Pemberley, covering my eyes with my Regency needlepoint every time Matthew Rhys fails, well, to have Colin Firth’s exact face, then I might just be pleasantly surprised. As long as they’ve got the fancy dress right, and nobody complains about the tapas.


*By the way, I’ve decided not to tolerate mutterings about “authentic” food any more. What, do you think nobody in the whole of Spain or Italy ever cooked a dodgy meal? Does every backstreet caff in every country outside of this one serve up manna from heaven on a daily basis? Do you think the reason 17th century farmers didn’t use a certain kind of oil is because it would be criminally inauthentic, rather than just because they didn’t have a Waitrose?